When working from home, creating a clear plan regarding expectations and deliverables is key.
By Robin Reshwan, Contributor
Millions of employees nationwide are working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Roles that never were believed to be suitable for remote settings have been redesigned to meet the challenges of social distancing. Working remotely has many upsides, like no commute, no water cooler gossip and no dress code. But, it also brings about some new challenges for managers accustomed to in-person leadership. If you are new to leading remote employees, here are tips on how to manage your virtual team.
Have a Plan
When you are in the office, it is easy to pop your head in to ask a question or to see if an employee is on track. When employees work remotely, many suffer from a lack of clear direction or a fear that if you can’t see their productivity, you may not know how hard they are working. Creating a clear plan regarding expectations and deliverables is key to productive and micromanagement-free relationships.
Start by asking each team member to draft their big picture and tactical to-dos for the day, week or month, along with what they need from you or others to be successful. Review their list and then have a collaborative discussion to be sure there is an agreement regarding what they proposed and what you expect. Establish timelines for progress updates and document tasks, plans and/or when you will talk next.
Additionally, discuss or present several filler projects or initiatives that employees can pursue if they have downtime or need to wait for someone else to complete work before they can proceed. These can include many proactive projects that get overlooked during normal business – like updating email signatures, creating document templates, organizing online files and accessing training on your customer relationship management software or email system. With a clear plan, benchmarks and backup projects, you have the foundation for managing remote employees.
Trust, but Talk
Once you have a clear plan, make sure to block your calendar for follow-up and engagement. Often, in chaotic times like we are experiencing now, managers get so busy that they push off internal meetings to react to client crises.
Treat your employee meetings like gold; if they are unsure of what to do or are waiting for you, you lose the productivity and motivation of multiple people. Schedule your employee meetings for times that are less prone to last-minute demands, like first thing in the morning, before delays creep in.
Cover any pertinent work topics, but also leave some room for unstructured conversation. Many employees are dealing with uncertainty and stress, so checking in on them personally can often be as important or more important than the work agenda. Also, use video meetings to unite teams and other departments. The virtual face time is engaging and motivating.
Every aspect of your plan and each employee’s plan can be matched to a digital productivity tool. You can save goal lists in shared folders or an online planner. You can create and/or assign tasks, give scheduling access so employees can ask time-sensitive questions and preschedule one-on-one time with each employee to stay on track.
Take Time to Train
Period of change can be painful but can bring about profound growth. Remind your team that adapting to new work accommodations, virtual collaboration and leveraging digital productivity processes is stressful and taxing. To thrive during or after a transition period, take advantage of training and professional development.
For yourself, watch an online class or listen to a podcast on how to raise your remote management game or digital productivity skills. Reward or encourage your team to bring tips to group meetings. Identify online courses to develop skills – like project management, advanced PowerPoint or reporting features in your CRM or database. There has never been a larger supply of online educational tools – most of which are currently free or heavily discounted. When you foster your remote team’s development, you show that you are invested in their long-term career.
We are in uncharted territory, professionally and personally, due to COVID-19. With the rapid onset of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, many managers and employees have had to quickly adapt to working remotely. Although there will be growing pains as we acclimate to the new normal, you can make the process as painless as possible for your team with clarity, communication and humanity.
In addition to well-defined work goals, be sure to establish a culture where working from home doesn’t mean working all the time. Agree on work schedules and define when sick and vacation time can be taken. Additionally, establish best practices for communication so that one question doesn’t result in a text, digital message, email and a call all within 20 minutes. And, frequently assess how things are going to adjust as needed.